Filmed before and during that tense six-month window between 2Pac and Big's deaths, Rhyme and Reason has a eerie, unsettling vibe to it. Everyone in the film casts one eye on the zeros padding their bank accounts and one eye on the leeches, crooks and hustlers vulturing around them. Unfortunately, the built-in drama of this more money, more problems dilemma only plays a tangential role. Unlike The Show, whose filmmakers had the good instinct to hook their film on the 100-watt charisma and rattled wariness of Biggie, Slick Rick, Russell Simmons, et. al, Rhyme and Reason aims to be a broad survey of the genre. Made with Miramax money, it has the feel of a quickie cash-in designed to explain to rap-ignorant white people, what is was that their kids were listening to. That said, my parents never saw Rhyme and Reason. In fact, almost no one saw the $1.5 million grossing film despite its ostensibly fortunate fate of being released the same week that Biggie died. However, 11 years later, it's a flawed if occasionally very interesting documentary worth looking back on. Plus, its soundtrack is one of the era's best.
- Watching Meth trying to explain the Wu lexicon to the cameraman is particularly hilarious. “We don't even use the same slang you think we use,” he sneers, stoned. “If I came up to dude and said, 'yo, I'm chillin' the fresh b-boy way,' motherfuckers would like at me like I was crazy.” In the background, Raekwon sits there and giggles. This might be worth the price of admission alone.
- Every time, KRS-One appears on camera (and he appears a lot), he manages to come off as the most obnoxious person I've ever seen, insisting on speaking about hip-hop as though everyone else is a child and he's the only adult in the room. Sorry, I like Criminal Minded as much as the next man, but Kris Parker is wildly overrated and always has been. I mean listen to his contribution to the film's soundtrack, “Bring It Back,” a song dedicated to “bringing it back to that New York rap.” Keep in made that this was made in 1996! Where else was “the New York Rap?” Namibia? Granted, the flow is great, but in every verse and in every interview, dude manages to make Kanye West look bashful. It's just lame.
- Speech from Arrested Development is actually in this movie. Who knew that Speech didn't tragically die in a freak horse-shoe accidental directly after making the video for “Tennessee?”
Arrested Development: Hip Hop's Dave Matthews Band
- The only other person who come soff as arrogantly as KRS is Ice-T. I mean, he actually asked the filmmakers to bill him as being from “The Hollywood Hills.” Though I have to give the guy credit, at least he seems aware that he's not a very good rapper. At one point, he even declares that he's more of a gangster than a rapper anyway. Of course, while I respect the man's ability to become obscenely wealthy despite having no discernible talent, I have to dislike him for allowing Young Jeezy to exist.
- The film's brief section on freestyling features several different rappers attempting to rhyme on the top of the dome: Craig Mack, Erick Sermon, Doitall from Lords of the Underground and Phife from Tribe. Ice-T kicks a few bars too but is obviously spitting pre-written material. Meanwhile, Fat Lip from the Pharcyde trumps them all. Granted, being a great freestyle rapper doesn't actually mean you'll make you'll make great records (aka, “The Supernatural Effect”) but Fat Lip was capable of both. Watching Rhyme and Reason makes you realize what a shame it was that The Pharcyde broke up after just two albums, both of them excellent.
- Every time the Wu is pictured, they're standing in the frigid project cold, drinking 40s and smoking blunts in massive parkas and stocking caps. That's just impressive.
A Dingo Ate My Baby
- Watching Ecstasy from Whodini speak (sans Zorro hat) about the old school when the “majors wouldn't touch hip-hop” and instead left it to the indies, feels strangely similar to the situation we're already seeing and will continue to see if hip-hop sales decline further. Personally, I see this as a good thing. For one, it'll weed out the people in it strictly for the money (CUUURRTIIISSS). Secondly, if you look at hip-hop history, a whole lot of the genre's greatest albums were put out on indie labels, from Cold Chillin' to Delicious Vinyl to Tommy Boy to the early years of Def Jam, to the dozens of others. The blame for the shitty hip-hop of the 00s lies as much with the lack of viable independent labels as it does with the lack of artistic innovation (Stones Throw, Def Jux and kinda' sorta' Koch excluded.) As rap sales decline and the majors show less interest, it'll open up room in the market for indies and hopefully put less pressure on non-commercially minded rappers to make feeble club bangers to boost album sales.
- Wyclef gets the bronze for being the third most grating rapper in the film, seemingly only capable of talking in biblical parables that may or may equate him to Jesus. At one point, speaking on his label problems he declares that “everyone welcomes you into Jerusalem, and then they want to crucify you.” No shit, they want to crucify you. They probably heard The Ecleftic.
- All the scenes of the “Jack the Rapper” convention in Orlando, Fla. are priceless. From seeing Puffy drunkenly stumbling around the pool in his boxers looking like Cam'ron in those weird You Tube videos from last summer; to Redman kicking a freestyle with Keith Murray and getting the grimey gold medal for bragging about how he still keeps tapes on him to sell despite having sold a million records , to Heavy D choking up when he thinks of all the letters that fans have written him telling him how much he inspires them. Which brings me to the biggest mystery of the entire film: who in their right mind would take the trouble to write Heavy D a letter, let alone be inspired by his music. Did “Now That We've Found Love” bring the plus-sized crowd together or something and I'm just only now becoming aware of it?